Factory Conditions Elicit Little Outcry

Amid renewed reports of poor working conditions in China at factories making products for Apple and other companies, it's unclear whether users will demand change.

Some Apple customers at the recent Macworld/iWorld show in San Francisco seemed to react with a shrug to a lengthy story in The New York Times that alleged poor working conditions at Chinese factories operated by Apple contractors. The story described fatal accidents and long hours, as well as crowded living conditions in dorms near the factories.

The report is unlikely to change Apple customers' buying habits, said Steve Hathaway, a show attendee from Hercules, Calif. "Most companies get their stuff made elsewhere because it's cheaper," he said.

Asked if Apple customers would pay more for products from factories with safer conditions, Hathaway said, "Apple already has a premium price; you'd think they should be doing something on their end of it to make it right."

Victor Cajiao, who runs the website TypicalMacUser.com, said he thinks attitudes will eventually change. But, he added, this isn't purely an Apple problem: Many of the factories with dicey practices also make products for other technology vendors.

Still, responses seem tepid at best. An online petition at Change.org that asks Apple to end "slavery" conditions at its Foxconn contractor has garnered only about 500 signatures. In comparison, a Change.org petition calling on Bank of America to drop a $5 debit-card fee received over 300,000 signatures.

Apple executives didn't respond to requests for comment on the Times article, but Apple CEO Tim Cook discussed the issue in a company memo to staff obtained by 9to5Mac. Apple cares about "every worker" in its supply chain, he said in the memo, and it has "made a great deal of progress and improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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